St Martin


The village of Saundby is just a couple of miles from the River Trent that marks the county border with Lincolnshire, and the industrial town of Gainsborough lying on the far side of the river. The village is also only a few miles south of Beckingham whose church, All Saints, was one of the sixteen prebendal churches attached to the College of Canons at Southwell. The parish church of Saundby St Martin of Tours may have lacked the status of its neighbour but it has had a long and respected history of its own.

Saundby is mentioned in the Domesday survey as one of the 'outliers' to Laneham, in the lands of the Archbishop of York, but there is no specific mention of a church or priest here at that time.

The church probably dates back to the end of the 13th century. Its first listed rector was Subdeacon Thomas de Bekingham, who was inducted into the church on 26 February 1295. The church is listed in the taxation rolls ordered by Pope Nicholas and written in 1291, where it was valued at £10 13s 4d.

The local lord, Sir Robert de Sandeby, was the one who presented Thomas to be the rector and it may have been that Sir Robert had been the one to sponsor the church’s construction. It was common in the medieval era for local lords to construct churches in their villages as a sign of piety, resulting in even small villages like Saundby having impressive church buildings. The new church was dedicated to St Martin of Tours, a 4th century priest from Hungary who became Bishop of Tours, and is the patron Saint of beggars, wool weavers, tailors, soldiers, geese, vintners, innkeepers and France.

The family of de Sandeby, or Saundby, continued as lords of the manor and patrons of the church of St Martin for centuries after its founding, another indication that they were responsible for its original construction. For example in 1315 the manor and the advowson of the church (the right to appoint its priest) was passed to another Robert de Saundby, perhaps the son of the founder. In 1378 it was passed to Bertram de Saundby and so forth.

In 1309 the rector of Saundby was Sir Thomas de Saundeby, priest, who was granted licence by archbishop Greenfield to study for two years more, implying he had already had two years away. Study leave was a common occurrence at this period.

The records from another church taxation, the 1341 Nonarum Inquisitiones, gives a more detailed picture of the church’s wealth. The church was itself taxed at 16 marks – just as in 1291. However it also received the ninths of the sheaves, lambs and fleeces worth 11 marks per annum. There was 33 acres of land attached to Saundby St Martin, probably given from the de Saundby estates, worth 34s. The priest also received 20s per annum from the tithes on hay, and 20s per annum from the altar dues and mortuary offerings.

Around the turn of the fourteenth century, the lord and church patron was William de Saundby. There is a floor slab still surviving in the church that bears a Latin inscription in the memory of William and his wife Elizabeth. There is also an effigy of an armoured knight, which has sadly been mutilated at some point, which is probably also be a depiction of William, who has sometimes been described as the founder of the church. This was a misunderstanding since the church predates him by a century. However he did rebuild parts of the church, and probably added to it, although later rebuilds have made it harder to date specific sections to this period.

In 1428 Henry VI ordered a tax on the churches in England. “Saindeby” was valued at 16 marks and taxed 21s 4d, so its value had not changed since 1291.

In 1467-8 the church acquired a chantry, which was a fund set up to pay for one or more priests to sing Masses and pray for the souls of particular individuals, usually deceased. The chantry at Saundby was founded by the donations of a group of individuals. These included Elizabeth Hercy, the wife of Hugh Hercy, esquire, Sir John Markham, a local knight, Richard Willoughby, esquire, Gervase Hercy, and Geoffrey Staunton. The chantry was to have a priest to help the curate minister and say divine services and do other deeds of charity, and prayers were to be said for the founders, as well as the King and Queen and their heirs, Richard the Duke of York (thus showing great neutrality in the political conflict between Duke and King), Hugh Hercy and Elizabeth’s parents, Simon and Joan de Lake, as well as William Saundby and his wife and the Hercy ancestors. To provide the chantry priest with a source of income he was given two cottages and two messuages (dwellings), one with 90 acres attached and the other with 70 acres attached.

The original church had possibly been built without a tower. One was finally added (or rebuilt) to St Martin’s at the beginning of the 16th century. The inscription on the tower, still there today, is somewhat unclear, reading either 1504, 1507 or 1512. Built in Perpendicular style it was attached on the west side, while a south aisle was added at the same time.

The 16th century saw the Anglican Reformation and sweeping changes within the Church in England. Although many of these changes had little effect on the day to day lives of the typical villager or on the rural churches they attended, the Chantries housed in many churches were targeted. In 1547 commissioners appointed by Edward VI’s Regency Council visited Saundby, amongst many other churches, to survey the chantry that Elizabeth Hercy had founded less than a century earlier. The chantry was valued at £5 13s 4d and its priest, Seth Godley, was described as being ‘meanley lerned’ (although he was far from the only priest so described by the commissioners’ report). All the chantries in England were closed down soon after and their priests were pensioned off – in 1555 Seth Godley is listed as receiving £4 per year. The chantry's lands were sold into private hands but were soon disputed between John Sydenham, esquire, and Thomas Bullock in 1583. The details of the dispute are not known but in 1590 Queen Elizabeth I granted the chantry and all its lands to an Edward Downeing and Roger Rant, so it appears the dispute was solved by a confiscation of the lands from both parties.

In 1548 the will of William Mering, Esquire was proved and, amongst much else, he specified that: 'my bodie to be buried within the parishe churche of Saundebie at the discretion of myne executoures. Unto the blissed sacrament of the alter in the saide churche for tithes forgotten xx s., and my mortuarie accordinge to the lawes of the realme.'

The parish priest at Saundby was given a gift in 1557, when he was granted 20s per year for tithes from the will of Hugh Thornhill, esquire. The payments were to continue as long as the testator’s lease endured. In 1570 the church gained a silver chalice and cover made by a London silversmith. The chalice and cover still survive and remain with the church in the 21st century.

Towards the end of the 16th century the de Saundby family was replaced as Lords of the Manor by the Helwys family which had previously lived in Askham. One member of it, John Helwys, has an alabaster tomb set up in the chancel to himself and his wife Mary. The monument was set up by his son Gervase Helwys in 1612 although the inscription on the tomb is dated 1599. Gervase Helwys was himself a Lieutenant of the Tower of London but was executed in 1615 for allegedly poisoning one of the prisoners in the tower, Sir Thomas Overbury.

Several members of Saundby’s congregation were presented for being papal recusants, i.e. Catholics, during the early 17th century as religious divisions continued to be an important factor in English society. Robert Hutton and Robert Benworth were presented in 1624, William Dawson, gentleman, and his wife the next year and one Robert Benham, a yeoman, was presented from 1625 to 1635.

In 1625 the minister had cause to compose a presentment regarding one of his unruly parishioners, Robert Roger, who had clearly caused great offence as he wrote that he used: 'most vile base and opprobrious words most untrue and utterly false and amongst other that I would goo from house to house wt lies and tales to begg my meate'.

In 1630 the churchwardens of several Nottinghamshire churches, including Saundby, were brought to court by the Southwell Chapter for a failure to pay the annual offerings. This was almost certainly the Pentecostal offerings given each year on Whitsuntide for the Pentecostal Procession and which was a tradition dating back to the 12th century. Saundby’s offering was 1s a year, not a huge burden on the church’s resources, but it is possible that the tradition had lapsed and been forgotten by the wardens of these churches until the Chapter decided to re-enforce the custom.

This was far from the only lapse in duties by the churchwardens, as an inspection of the church in 1638 found. The inspectors described the chancel as being in very bad condition. The roof timber was very decayed, the door was ‘insufficient’ (in what way is not specified) and the floor was unpaved. The altar was disordered, the seats lacked flooring and the reading seat and pulpit were also deemed insufficient. The chest containing the Register Book lacked a lock as well. Outside the church was little better, the churchyard fence was not repaired and the parsonage house was decayed and ruinous. Whether the churchwardens were reprimanded for letting the church fall into disrepair is not known, but seems probable.

Strict religious divisions were joined by severe political ones only a few years later as the country was plunged into civil war. Saundby itself played little part in the war but was likely to have been affected by the sieges of Newark a few miles further south. Nearby Beckingham was used as a base by troops during at least one siege and Saundby may have housed some as well. In the wake of the wars the Commonwealth moved to establish strongly puritan teachings across the country, only for these to be replaced in 1660 when Charles II was restored to the throne. The Act of Uniformity was passed to establish adherence to the prescribed forms of worship, prayers and rites of the church and all clergymen were expected to adhere to these and to use the revised Book of Common Prayer. Many clergymen, especially those ordained under the Commonwealth, refused and were evicted from their positions. Saundby’s rector, Joseph Rock, was one of these. He refused to use the new Book of Common Prayer and was removed in 1661. Described as a calm and sober man of ‘peaceable temper’, and ‘successful in catechizing’, he went on to become a private school teacher after his removal.

No return was made for Saundby at Archbishop Herring’s Visitation in 1743, but when Archbishop Drummond visited in 1764 the rector, the Rev Zacheus Duckett (in post since 1753) noted that there were just eleven families in the village, none of whom were dissenters. He himself lived in the parsonage house and took the services: ‘we have sermon twice a day on Sundays in the summer; in the winter in the morning and prayers in the afternoon. Full service on Good Friday and prayers as often as we can raise a congregation. I perform divine in no church besides my own.’ He administered Holy Communion four times a year.

Throsby visited the church in the 1790s.  ‘The church’, he recorded, ‘which is dedicated to St. Martin, has a nave and side aisles, four bells. This place of worship once was much larger. A stone figure like those at Radford church, stands now upon its stumps, without the church, with its face beaten to pieces. On a stone, on the north side of the tower, is pretty legible, in old characters, A. D. 1500, see the top of the succeeding miscellaneous plate, facing Houghton. Near the altar is a monument not noticed in Thoroton, for John Helmys, sometime lord of this manor, and to Mary his wife; he died in 1599. William Porter, rector, died in 1715.’

It seems possible that at some point St Martin’s was partly demolished, as by 1832 White’s Directory described the church as having evidently once been larger, and it certainly seems as though the former north aisle had been removed by this time. It is even possible that the neglect of the church described in the 1638 inspection resulted in parts of the church being closed down as unused. Other possibilities are that the shrinkage of the church is connected to the closure of the chantry in 1548, or just generally the depopulation of the village.

In 1831 a new rectory was built for the priest of Saundby. It was a sizeable building described as a ‘handsome mansion’, with the first rector to use it being the Reverend Francis Hewgill. The advowson was held by Lord Middleton, the 6th Baron Middleton, who owned extensive estates across the county, and it is likely he assisted in raising the money for the new rectory. By 1853 the rectory and its attached lands and other income was worth £101.

In the mid-19th century the rector at Saundby was Charles Walter Hudson, who was also the vicar of nearby North Wheatley. It was he that responded to the religious census taken in 1851. He reported that the village had only 88 people living in it, which the church could comfortably seat. However his typical congregation size was about 30 in the morning and 40-50 in the afternoon. Some of these will have been the same person attending both services but nonetheless it appears that most of the village routinely attended church each week. At the time of the census there appears to have been no Sunday School, but only because there were no suitable children to attend one and that other times one had been held. The tithes for the church were worth £300 but the value of the living overall varied with the price of corn, according to the rector.

Sir Stephen Glynne visited Saundby in 1865. He wrote that it was ‘a small church having nave and chancel with western tower and south porch. There was once a north aisle and the arcade may be traced in the north wall. The north side is of rougher work than the south.’ He noted also that ‘the interior has much modern work imitating old…. The Chancel is stalled. The nave has open seats, some of which are good ancient ones.’

The small size of the church’s congregation was partly responsible for the merger in 1883 of the parishes of Saundby and Bole to create an enlarged joint parish.

Hudson served as rector for many years and clearly grew much attached to the village and its church. Sometime after he retired he chose to help out one last time by sponsoring a partial rebuild and restoration of the church. This came a few years after a rebuild of the chancel, specifically in 1885-6. The chancel had been rebuilt by the architect John Loughborough Pearson at a total cost of £1,500, and included a new choir section as well as a paving of black and white marble slabs. The second restoration, which took place in 1891-2, was performed by W.S. Weatherley and Jones. Their work may have been influenced by Pearson’s earlier restoration as both restorations followed a more conservative style than many such Victorian works, which usually stamped their own style on the church almost regardless of the original church’s style.

At Saundby the restored parts of the building have been noted to be hard to distinguish from the medieval structure without close inspection. The second restoration cost £2,000, paid for entirely by Charles Hudson (who also contributed to the first restoration). It included a new roof for the nave and an entirely new aisle on the north side, including four stained glass windows by Kempe of London. There was also a new vestry and new seating, while an oak screen and a beautiful reredos of gold and enamel mosaic in an alabaster frame were both added to the church at this time.

During one of the restorations the tower was refurnished, the four bells were rehung, a new clock installed by W. Potts and Sons of Leeds, and some stained glass was put up by Charles Hudson as a memorial to his parents. The restored church was reopened in February 1892 by the Bishop of Southwell.

In 1912 the church was listed jointly with Bole, its incumbent rector being T.H. Chadwick, and is mentioned as not having a parsonage house. This may have been referring to Bole rather than Saundby, or may mean the rectory was demolished, perhaps because the rectors were now living in Bole rather than Saundby.

Like most parish churches a war memorial was built in Saundby after the First World War to commemorate the servicemen and women from the local area who had given their lives during the war. In Saundby’s case four names are listed on the memorial, a brass plaque attached to the inside of the south wall of the church. These names are Walter Herbert Yates, Herbert Vallance, John Wainwright, and William Arthur Chambers. The latter had the particular misfortune to die (of bronchitis) on the 8th November 1918, just three days before the armistice that ended the fighting. His father, John Chambers, donated a memorial lectern, made of oak, to the church in his son’s memory.

Although the church of St Martin continued to serve the village for much of the twentieth century it fell into increasing disuse and finally, in 1973, the church was closed. Since that time it has been looked after by the Church Conservation Trust, a charitable organisation devoted to protecting historic churches that, like Saundby, are no longer used and are in danger of being lost forever.

Saundby St Martin remains a consecrated building, and was even briefly reopened for one day on 6 September 1998, when a special Harvest Thanksgiving service was held by the Reverend Michael W Briggs. The church also attracts tourists visiting the area, including some, particularly from America, who are interested in the Pilgrim Fathers as the local area has ties to the Separatist movements that began their story.